Publications

Working Paper
Acemoglu, Daron, James A Robinson, and Ragnar Torvik. Working Paper. “The Political Agenda Effect and State Centralization”. Abstract
We provide a potential explanation for the absence of, and unwillingness to create, centralized power in the hands of a national state based on the political agenda effect. State centralization induces citizens of different backgrounds, interests, regions or ethnicities to coordinate their demands in the direction of more general-interest public goods, and away from parochial transfers. This political agenda effect raises the effectiveness of citizen demands and induces them to increase their investments in conflict capacity. In the absence of state centralization, citizens do not necessarily band together because of another force, the escalation effect, which refers to the fact that elites from different regions will join forces in response to the citizens doing so. Such escalation might hurt the citizen groups that have already solved their collective action problem (though it will benefit others). Anticipating the interplay of the political agenda and escalation effects, under some parameter configurations, political elites strategically opt for a non-centralized state. We show how the model generates non-monotonic comparative statics in response to the increase in the value or effectiveness of public goods (so that centralized states and public good provision are absent precisely when they are more beneficial for society). We also suggest how the formation of a social democratic party may sometimes induce state centralization (by removing the commitment value of a non-centralized state), and how elites may sometimes prefer partial state centralization.
statecentralization_may_2016_final_modified.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A Robinson. Working Paper. “Why did the West Extend the Franchise? A Correction”.
why_did_the_west_extend_the_franchise_-_a_correcti.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A Robinson. Working Paper. “The Emergence of Weak, Despotic and Inclusive States”. Abstract
Societies under similar geographic and economic conditions and subject to similar external influences nonetheless develop very different types of states. At one extreme are weak states with little capacity and ability to regulate economic or social relations. At the other are despotic states which dominate civil society. Yet there are others which are locked into an ongoing competition with civil society and it is these, not the despotic ones, that develop the greatest capacity. We develop a dynamic contest model of the potential competition between state (controlled by a ruler or a group of elites) and civil society (representing non-elite citizens), where both players can invest to increase their power. The model leads to different types of steady states depending on initial conditions. One type of steady state, corresponding to a weak state, emerges when civil society is strong relative to the state (e.g., having developed social norms limiting political hierarchy). Another type of steady state, corresponding to a despotic state, originates from initial conditions where the state is powerful and civil society is weak. A third type of steady state, which we refer to as an inclusive state, is also possible when state and civil society are more evenly matched. In this case, each party has greater incentives to invest to keep up with the other, and this leads to the most powerful and capable type of state, while incentivizing civil society to be equally powerful as well. Our framework shows why structural factors such as geography, economic conditions or external threats have ambiguous effects on the development of a powerful state --- depending on initial conditions they can shift a society into or out of the basin of attraction of the inclusive state.
inclusive_despotic_and_weak_states.pdf
Moscona, Jacob, Nathan Nunn, and James A Robinson. Working Paper. “Social Structure and Conflict”. Abstract
We present evidence that the intensity and endurance of civil wars and conflicts can depend on the social structures of the societies involved. More specifically we argue that `segmentary lineage societies' will tend to experience conflict which is more violent, of larger scale and more enduring that societies which feature different types of kinship systems. We investigate this by coding for 145 African ethnic groups whether or not they were historically organized as segmentary lineages and show that indeed such groups are prone to conflict along these lines. We show that the results are obust to a number of potential confounders such as historical political centralization, the importance of Islam and contemporary development outcomes. We argue that the causal connection works through the fact that in a segmentary lineage society it is easier to mobilize fighters and solve the collective action problem. The argument can help to explain the incidence and nature of conflicts in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa as well as the Middle East.
social_structure_conflict_manuscript.pdf social_structure_conflict_appendix.pdf
Fergusson, Leopoldo, Carlos Molina, James A Robinson, and Juan F Vargas. Working Paper. “The Long Shadow of the Past: Political Economy of Regional Inequality in Colombia”.
ri_vdoccede.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, Leopoldo Fergusson, James A Robinson, Dario Romero, and Juan Vargas. Working Paper. “The Perils of Top-Down Statebuilding: Evidence from Colombia's 'False Positives'”. Abstract
How should a state which lacks the monopoly of violence go about acquiring it? We investigate the use of high-powered incentives for members of the Colombian army as part of a strategy to combat left-wing guerillas and build the state's monopoly of violence. We show that this top-down state-building effort produced several perverse side effects. Innocent civilians were killed and misrepresented as guerillas (a phenomenon known in Colombia as `false positives'). Exploiting the fact that Colombian colonels have stronger career concerns and should be more responsive to such incentives, we show that there were significantly more false positives during the period of high-powered incentives in municipalities where a higher share of brigades were commanded by colonels and in those where checks coming from civilian judicial institutions were weaker. We further find that in municipalities with a higher share of colonels, the period of high-powered incentives coincided with a worsening of local judicial institutions and the security situation, with more frequent attacks not just by the guerillas but also by paramilitaries.
false_positives_v26.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A Robinson. Working Paper. “Paths to Inclusive Political Institutions”. Abstract
In this paper we present a new approach to thinking about the circumstances under which inclusive political institutions, consisting of a state with capacity and a broad distribution of political power, emerge. Different scholars have emphasized different paths towards such institutions, with some emphasizing modernization, and others emphasizing the necessity of state building as a prerequisite for democracy. We argue however, using the examples of Ancient Athens and Early Modern England, that inclusive political institutions emerge from a balanced increase in state capacity and the distribution of power. This path emerges in a particular basin of attraction. Though this basin depends on many parameters, we emphasize the crucial nature of informal institutions and social norms which put Athens and England onto this path. Outside of this basin a number of things may occur; social norms may be such as to stop a state forming, an outcome we illustrate with the Tiv of pre-colonial Nigeria; or when society is weaker a form of state formation can occur which creates a `Paper Leviathan' which we illustrate with Colombia; finally when civil society is prostrate `Real Leviathans' can be created, an outcome we illustrate with contemporary Rwanda. None of these latter paths lead to inclusive institutions or sustained prosperity.
path_to_inclusive_political_institutions.pdf
In Preparation
Reed, Tristan, and James A Robinson. In Preparation. “The Chiefdoms of Sierra Leone”. Abstract
In this manuscript, a companion to Acemoglu, Reed and Robinson (2014), we provide a detailed history of Paramount Chieftaincies of Sierra Leone. British colonialism transformed society in the country in 1896 by empowering a set of Paramount Chiefs as the sole authority of local government in the newly created Sierra Leone Protectorate. Only individuals from the designated "ruling families" of a chieftaincy are eligible to become Paramount Chiefs. In 2011, we conducted a survey in of "encyclopedias" (the name given in Sierra Leone to elders who preserve the oral history of the chieftaincy) and the elders in all of the ruling families of all 149 chieftaincies. Contemporary chiefs are current up to May 2011. We used the survey to re-construct the history of the chieftaincy, and each family for as far back as our informants could recall. We then used archives of the Sierra Leone National Archive at Fourah Bay College, as well as Provincial Secretary archives in Kenema, the National Archives in London and available secondary sources to cross-check the results of our survey whenever possible. We are the first to our knowledge to have constructed a comprehensive history of the chieftaincy in Sierra Leone.
history.pdf
Forthcoming
Acemoglu, Daron, Suresh Naidu, Pascual Restrepo, and James A Robinson. Forthcoming. “Democracy does cause growth”. Journal of Political Economy.
democracy_does_cause_growth.pdf
Lowes, Sara, Nathan Nunn, James A Robinson, and Jonathan Weigel. Forthcoming. “The Evolution of Culture and Institutions: Evidence from the Kuba Kingdom”. Econometrica.
kuba_paper_january_2017.pdf
Robinson, James A, Ragnar Torvik, and Theirry Verdier. Forthcoming. “The Political Economy of Public Income Volatility”. Journal of Public Economics.
volatilitypolitics.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, James A Robinson, and Thierry Verdier. Forthcoming. “Asymmetric Growth and Institutions in an Interdependent World”. Journal of Political Economy.
asymmetric_growth_and_institutions.pdf
2017
Moscona, Jacob, Nathan Nunn, and James A Robinson. 2017. “Keeping it in the Family:Lineage Organization and the Scope of Trust in Sub-Saharan Africa”. American Economic Review 107(5):565-571. Abstract
We present evidence that the traditional structure of society is an important determinant of the scope of trust today. Within Africa, individuals belonging to ethnic groups that organized society using segmentary lineages exhibit a more limited scope of trust, measured by the gap between trust in relatives and trust in non-relatives. This trust gap arises because of lower levels of trust in non-relatives and not higher levels of trust in relatives. A causal interpretation of these correlations is supported by the fact that the effects are primarily found in rural areas where these forms of organization are still prevalent.
keeping_it_in_the_family_published.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, and James A Robinson. 2017. “The Economic Impact of Colonialism”. Pp. 81-89 in The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, vol. 1. London: Vox.EU.
economics_of_colonialism_published.pdf
2016
Robinson, James A, and Ragnar Torvik. 2016. “Endogenous Presidentialism”. Journal of the European Economic Association 14(4):907-942.
robinson_et_al-2016-journal_of_the_european_economic_association.pdf
Fergusson, Leopoldo, James A Robinson, Ragnar Torvik, and Juan Vargas. 2016. “The Need for Enemies”. Economic Journal 126(593):1018-1054.
fergusson_et_al-2016-the_economic_journal_1.pdf
Acemoglu, Daron, Jacob Moscona, and James A Robinson. 2016. “State Capacity and American Technology”. American Economic Review 106(5):61-67.
state_capacity_and_american_technology.pdf
Robinson, James A. 2016. “La Miseria en Colombia”. Desarollo y Sociedad 76(1):1-70.
the_misery_in_colombia.pdf la_miseria_spanish.pdf
2015
Acemoglu, Daron, Camilo García-Jimeno, and James A Robinson. 2015. “State Capacity and Development: A Network Approach”. American Economic Review.
state_capacity_published.pdf
Chaves, Isaías N, Leopoldo Fergusson, and James A Robinson. 2015. “He Who Counts Wins: Economic Elites, Political Elites and Electoral Fraud”. Economics and Politics 27:124-159.

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